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Women's Rights in Early New York

The following questions are designed to test your ability to work with historical documents. As you analyze the documents, take into account both the source of the document and the author’s point of view.
Historical Context
New York State bears the imprint of both its Dutch and English colonial past.  Despite the conquest of New Netherland by the English in 1664, the impact of Dutch culture and religion, as well as the influence of New Netherlands’ most powerful families could still be felt centuries later.  Likewise, Dutch legal traditions endured in parts of colonial New York for nearly a century following the English take-over.

Gradually, the English replaced Dutch laws with practices rooted in English common law and English colonial experiences in North America.  Women were among those most profoundly affected by changes in the legal system.  Under Dutch law, married women could retain control over property they possessed prior to marriage, buy and sell property, make contracts including ante-nuptial agreements, write wills, and appear in court on their own behalf.  Widows were entitled to inherit at least half of the marital estate, with the remaining portion being divided equally among children regardless of gender.  Consequently, both single and married women in New Netherland found opportunities for economic independence and prosperity.
Under English law, women surrendered control over property upon marriage and could not enter into contracts, write wills, or initiate legal action without consent or participation of their husbands.  A widow's legal inheritance was limited in most cases to one-third of the marital estate and most fathers favored sons over daughters in wills involving real property.  Gradually, English laws affecting property began to significantly curtail the participation of women in business and trade.  In 1710, the colonial assembly equated women with minors and those "not of Sound mind" in an act specifying requirements for obtaining legal title to land.  It was not until more than seven decades after independence that New York State returned some of the rights that women had enjoyed under Dutch rule.

Task Description
Using information from the following documents and your own knowledge of history, in Part A answer the questions that follow each listed document.  Your answers to these questions will help you complete the writing assignment given in Part B.
Part A: Instructions
For this assignment, you will be provided with a set of documents.  Answer the questions for each document based on the information in the document and your knowledge of social studies.  Keep in mind the time period, meaning, and purpose of each of the documents.
Part B: Essay
Essay 1
Using information and evidence from all of the documents to support your thinking, and using your own knowledge of history, write an essay that describes how the rights of women differed under Dutch and English colonial rule.  Your essay should be well organized and should include an introduction, at least three paragraphs, and a conclusion. 

Essay 2
Using information and evidence from all of the documents to support your thinking, and using your own knowledge of history, write an essay that presents your opinion on whether our current property laws are more reflective of our Dutch colonial past or our English colonial past.  Your essay should be well organized and should include an introduction, at least three paragraphs, and a conclusion. 


About this Activity


Lesson Topic:


     An act for the more effectual protection of the property of married women
New York State Archives, NYSA_13036-78_L1848_Ch200
Document Description
Excerpt of Chapter 200 of the Laws of 1848, enacted for the protection of the property of married women.
An act for the more effectual protection of the property of married women.
The People of the State of New York, represented in Senate and Assembly, do enact as follows:
§1. The real and personal property of any female who may hereafter marry, and which she shall own at the time of marriage, and the rents issues and profits thereof shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband, nor be liable for his debts, and shall continue her sole and separate property, as if she were a single female.
§2.  The real and personal property, and the rents, issues and profits thereof, of any female now married shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband, ______________________________ but shall be her sole and separate property as if she were a single female except so far as the same may be liable for the debts of her husband heretofore contracted.
§3.  It shall be lawful for any married female to receive, by gift, grant devise or bequest, from any person other than her husband and hold to her sole and separate use, as if she were a single female, real and personal property, and the rents issues and profits thereof, and the same shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband, nor be liable for his debts.
§4.  All contracts made between persons in contemplation of marriage shall remain in full force after such marriage takes place.
State of New York
In Senate, March 29th, 1848
This bill was read the third time and passed:
By order of the Senate
Hamilton Fish, President
Approved April 7, 1848
John Yancy[sic]
State of New York
In Assembly April 6, 1848
This bill was read the third time and passed.
By order of the Assembly.
A.K. Hadley, Speaker
  1. In what year was this law enacted?
  2. Why do you think there needed to be a law for the protection of the property of married women? Who was the law protecting the property from?
  3. Do you think this law would have been necessary under Dutch colonial rule? Why or why not?

     Laws of New York: 1710, Chapter 216
New York State Archives, NYSA_A0212-78_V5_L1710_Ch216
Document Description
Excerpt of Chapter 216 of the Colonial Laws, classifying married women with minors and those "not of Sound mind," 1710.
[CHAPTER 216.]
[Chapter. 216, of Livingston & Smith and Van Schaack, where the act 18 printed in full. Printed in full in Bradford's 1715 ed., p. 82; Baskett p. 128.]
AN ACT for the better Settlem't and Assureing Of Lands in this Colony
[Passed October 30, 1710.]
BE IT ENACTED by the Governr', Council and Assembly, and by the Authority of the Same, That every person or persons Bodys Politick and Corporate, Citys or Towns, who by Themselves, their Tennants or Servants, or his or their Assignee or Assigns, Grantees Their Ancestors, Predecessors or others under whome they Claime, have been Seized to their owne use or uses, or taken the Rents, Issues and proffits of any Messuages, Houses Tenem'ts Lands and Hereditaments Whatsoever in this Colony and Plantation in his or their own proper Right, for  the Term and Space of Ten Years now last past, & Shall so Continue whether in their own persons, their heirs, successors or Assigns, or by any other person or persons under them, in possession, as aforesaid, without any Claime either by Actual Entry and possession thereupon Continued, or Suite to be prossecuted to Effect untill the first day of September in the year of our Lord Seventeen hundred & Thirteen Shall from and after the Said first day of September, and forever be Adjudged, Deemed and taken to be the True, Rightfull and Lawfull Owner of Such Messuages, Houses, Lands, Tenements and hereditaments Respectively, and Shall and may have, hold and Enjoy the Same, any Claime, Right, Title, Demand or Pretence to the Oontrary thereof by or from any person or persons, Bodys Politick and Corporate Whatsoever, in Any Wise Notwithstanding. Provided, That Niether this Act nor any thing therein contained shall Extend or be Construed to the prejudice or Barr of any person or persons who shall before the said first day of September Seventeen hundred and thirteen, Commence any suit for any Lands, houses, Tenements or hereditaments in this Colony, and afterwards prosecute the
same to Effect, Nor to the Prejudice of any Mortgagee or Lessee, whose Mortgage or Lease shall be Recorded in the Secretary's office of this Colony before the said first day of September Seventeen hundred and thirteen
Provided also That neither this Act nor any thing therein Contained, shall be Extended or Construed to the prejudice or hindrance of any person or persons under Age of One and Twenty years, Marryed 'Women, not of Sound mind, Imprisoned, or beyond the Seas. Provided Such person or persons within Three years after his or their Coming to the Age of One and Twenty years, being unmarryed, becoming of Sound mind, Liberty, or Return into this Plantation and Colony, do make their Actual Entry, or bring their Suite, as aforesaid, otherwise to be utterly debar'd, and Excluded from any Entry, Claime, Suite or Demand Whatsoever.
AND whereas by many Accidents the Deeds and Writings relating to Estates Some 'time have been and may hereafter be Destroyed, Consumed, and Lost Whereby The Lawful and Rightfull Owner ,of any Lands, Messuages, Houses, Tenements, and Hereditaments may be  Exposed to many doubtful, Expensive and Vexatious Suits, and other Inconveniences, for the Preventing Whereof BE IT ENACTED by the Authority aforesaid, That all and every Deed or Deeds, Conveyance or Conveyances and Writings relating to the Title or Property of any Lands, Messuages, Tenements or hereditaments within this Colony which have been already or Shall be hereafter Executed, being Duly Acknowledged & Recorded in the Secretarys office of the Said Colony, or in the County Records where Such Lands are Scituate and being, Such Deed or Writing so Recorded, or Transcript Thereof, shall be good and Effectual Evidence in any Court of Record within This Colony, to all Intents and purposes as if the Original Deed or Deeds, Conveyance or Conveyances and Writings was or Were produced and proved in Court.
AND be it further Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That the Dutch Word Onroerende, and the Word Vaste Staat, which are Commonly Rendred into English by the Words Immovable and fast Estate, by which in the Dutch  Language is understood a Real Estate, houses, Lands and Tenements, and other Real Estate of Inheritance, And are used in any Dutch Antenuptial Contract or Law Will & Testament, or Deed or Deeds made in this Colony, and Duly Executed before Two or M,ore Credible Witnesses at any time before The Publication of this Act, Ought therefore to be Understood of A Real Estate, And That the Parties Who have Or Claime any Right to any Real Estate or part thereof within this Colony, by Virtue of the aforesaid Dutch Words, or either of them used in Such Dutch Antenuptial Contracts, or Wills and Testaments, Or Deed or Deeds, as aforesaid, Shall and may Enjoy the Same to his or their Heirs and Assigns for Ever, in as full And Ample Manner as if the Devise, Deed, Grant or Conveyance was made by the Words Real Estate, Lands or Tenements, and Sue for the Same, in her Majesties Courts within this Colony, and Recover Possession Accordingly, any Law Usage or Custome to the Contrary hereof in any Wise notwithstanding.
  1. When was this law written?
  2. This act is called, “An Act for the Better Settling and Assurance of Lands in this Colony.”  What does that mean?
  3. According to this act, what groups of people would not be allowed to own property?
  4. What groups of people are married women compared with?

     Petition by the Heirs of Samuel Palmer of Westchester that his widow be granted a letter of administration, 1670
New York State Archives, NYSA_A1894-78_V022_098
Document Description
Petition by the Heirs of Samuel Palmer of Westchester that his widow be granted a letter of administration, 1670.
[ ] The [ ] Governour of [ ] highnes [ ] of York his Terri[ ) in Amerrica, Greeting
The humbel petishon of your honnors humbel petishonnours Request is: that whearas it hath pleased the Lord to take awaye our Father lately out of this life and that with a sudden Blowe of death withoute sicknes that wee Could anye wayes Conseve Only a distemper he hath had one him manye years which we Could not Conseve mortall. and dyeing suddenly left noe will onlye verbally which was exprest to none but wee his Chilldren that weare by long before his Death and heard him saye hee having but Littel Esteate in this Life his Whole desire was haveing but a small matter of esteat in this life: and not knoing how it might Please the Lord in his goodnes and mercye to deale with him: Sayd that what he left behind him should Fully and Freely be left to his wives will and disposeing For her mayntaynance in Respect shee was striken in years and Far unfit for labore your honners humbel Petishonors desire is that your honner will be Pleased to grant such favor for Us that our Mother the Widdo being soe left may finde soe much favor from your honner to have a letter of Administration granted her without anye further Charge [in] Respect the esteate is but smalle and shee unkeapeable of paying Charge that maye Arise: and your honners Petishonors [will] ever praye
Westchester Aprill the 26th: 1670
Joseph Pallmer
beniamen Pallmar
Samuell pallmar
Obadiah Pallmar
[T)homas Squyer
his mar[ ]
[Endorsed:] [ ] Palmer of Westche[
deceased. for letters of Administracion.
Apr. 26 1670. Administracon granted and issued
as according to Request.
  1. When was this petition made?
    Was this during the time of Dutch colonization or English colonization?
  2. Was Samuel Palmer’s death expected?
  3. Samuel Palmer’s children tell the court about how Samuel Palmer wanted his estate to be distributed after his death. To whom do they say Samuel Palmer wanted the estate to go?
  4. Why do you think Samuel Palmer’s heirs needed to petition the court on their mother’s behalf? Why couldn’t she petition the court herself?

     Marriage contract of Brant Peelen and Marritje Pieters, widow of Claes Pietersen
New York State Archives, NYSA_A0270-78_V2_064
Document Description
Excerpt of the marriage contract of Brant Peelen and Marritje Pieters, widow of the late Claes Pietersen, 1643.
In the year of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, one thousand, six hundred and forty three, before me Cornelis van Tienhoven, admitted secretary in New Netherland for the General Incorporated West India Company, personally came and appeared Brant Peelen from Nykerk, widower of the late Lubbertje Wouters, and Marrietje Pieters, widow of the late Claes Sybrantsen, (with Jan Schepmoes her chosen guardian herein,) who declared that they intended to enter together into the holy state of matrimony, for which reasons and causes he, Brant Pelen, the present bridegroom, promises to pay from his first ready goods, means and effects immediately to his three children by his first wife, the sum of three thousand Carolus guilders, to wit: To his daughter Lysbet Brants, one thousand guilders; to Geert Brants, one thousand guilders, and to Gerritje Brants, a like thousand guilders.  She, Marritje Pieters, present bride, promises to give and pay to each of her two children named Sybrant Claesen and Seltje Claes, as their paternal inheritance and property, the sum of Two hundred guilders; which aforesaid four hundred guilders he Brant Peelen shall be at liberty to use four consecutive years without interest, and if he Brant Peelen use the aforesaid money longer, he shall annually pay as interest of the hundred guilders five per cent, but on the express condition and stipulation that they, the bridegroom and bride, remain bound, with the help of God, to bring up Seltje Claes, the youngest child, to clothe her, to send her to school, to let her learn reading and writing and a good trade in such manner as honest parents ought and are bound to do, and as they can answer before God and men.
In this their marriage contract it is, with the will and pleasure of the bridegroom and bride, expressly agreed and stipulated by them, considering that there is nothing certain but death, and nothing more uncertain than the hour thereof, in order to provide against all such uncertainty of death by their joint will, they both, the bridegroom and the bride, declare that whenever Almighty God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, whom they pray that it may be His holy will to bless them in this their marriage so as it shall be necessary for them here temporarily and hereafter eternally, Amen, shall call the first of them both out of this world, the longest liver of them shall remain in full occupation and possession of all the temporal goods that God hath granted, or shall grant, in this world jointly to them the bridegroom and bride; it being well understood that there should be no difference in regard to the property, but the property of both of them being common, it is computed of the same value, as no inventory is made on either side and it is assumed on both sides as of equal value, which is this concluded and contracted with their joint mature deliberation, wishing and requesting that this shall have full effect after the death of either of them.
It is further covenanted that whenever either of them dies, a proper inventory shall then be made of all the property that the both shall possess at the time, so that the lawful heirs may obtain pertinent [ ], and whenever the survivor shall have departed out of this sorrowful world, the lawful heirs on both sides shall then equally divide and each side receive a like portion of the estate; likewise, that the survivor shall be bound to manage the property as profitably as possible, expecting, with the help of God, only that it may not be squandered needlessly or improperly.  If this occur, those whom it interests shall be at liberty to interfere, and that with cause and good reason.
Wherewith he, Brant Pelen, bridegroom and she Marritje Pieters, present bride, conclude their contract of marriage, and request that this may have effect and be valid before all Courts and judges, to this end renouncing all exceptions of what sort soever which may anywise contravene these presents, pledging themselves, in like manner under bond of all law for the payment of the sum of money promised to their children on either side.  In testimony this is signed by them respectively, with Everardus Bogardus and Hendric Kip, witnesses hereunto invited, the 3d July AD 1643, in Fort Amsterdam, New Netherland.
Everardus Boghardus
Hendrick Hendricksen Kyp
Ian Iansen Scepmoes
This is the + mark of
Marritje Pieters
Brant Pelen
To my Knowledge, Cornelis van Tienhoven, Secretary.
  1. In what year was this document written?
    Was this during the time of Dutch colonization or English colonization?
  2. What kind of agreement does this document describe?
  3. Do we still have agreements like this today? What are they called?